Connecting the Dots with Columnist John Bos: Eco-Anxiety: Part II

  • JOHN BOS

Published: 11/2/2021 8:27:53 AM

Yesterday, world leaders convened ­in Glasgow at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). They must come up with an international agreement that might slow down our descent into a full-blown climate catastrophe.

In my previous column, I said that I believe the destruction of our worldwide environment cannot be stopped. In 1992, more than 150 countries agreed in Rio de Janeiro to stabilize emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a level that would “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The results of subsequent UN climate meetings in Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009) and Paris (2015) have been an increase in CO2 emissions by 38%.

The UN is saying that countries’ climate plans will fall short of the Paris Agreement goals. That agreement, which the Trump administration withdrew from, sought to prevent more than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming in order to evade the worst impacts of climate change. A new report from the U.N. states that the proposed COP26 plans for emissions cuts would put the world on track for 2.7 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

Mitigating climate change demands comprehensive, systematic, and immediate action. The U.S. has demonstrated repeatedly that we have not taken meaningful action. Responding to the climate crisis has become a fierce race against time while our government and most of us dawdle at the starting line. There are multiple reasons for this inaction that I don’t have the space to go into in this column.

It is not that I do not believe that the mostly well-meaning delegates (Republican delegates excluded) from our beleaguered world want to succeed for lack of trying. I just don’t think they can avoid the rock bottom reality that is not being discussed but cannot be avoided.

This reality is energy. Power in multiple forms. Energy that fuels our life styles, economy and those in power. I cannot imagine that most of us, our nation and our government, would ever agree to give up what we have in order to save our planet. Or to rescue our degrading environment for future generations.

My dismal belief is confirmed by Richard Heinberg in his new book “Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival.” Heinberg, after earning my pessimism, does offer his readers a smidgeon of hope for humankind at the end of his book. He urges a society that voluntarily limits “its power by developing its aesthetic creativity and spirituality” by “striving for happiness rather than dominance over nature.”

Readers may feel that my dark view of our collective future lacks optimism and hope. Hope is different from optimism and is also different from the simple desire for things to turn out well. True hope demands faith in “not-knowing,” in trusting the uncertainty of the future. It is my lack of trust in the current angry authoritarian assault on our people, our fledgling democracy, our human values and on scientific truth that has me on the dark side.

Here, in too tiny a nutshell, is my reason for believing that we are cooked.

“We can’t,” Heinberg writes, “understand nature or human society without investigating the workings of power. Our human ability to overwhelm nature and our tendency toward extreme inequality have both evolved in discrete stages.” He meanders through the history of humans on Earth, revealing how each new technological or social innovation empowered some people over others, while often imposing a long-term environmental cost. “The adoption of agriculture,” he writes, “was a milestone on this path: it enabled more people to subsist in any given area, and it led to cities, kings, and slavery; further, in many places, plowing tended to deplete or ruin topsoil, and city-dwellers cut down nearby forests, leading to eventual societal collapse.”

Consider, Heinberg says, that “in just the last two centuries, our global population has grown eight-fold, and so has per capita energy consumption. Our modern way of life — with cars, planes, supermarkets, tractors, trucks, electricity grids, and internet shopping - is the result.”

“Energy is inextricably related to power,” Heinberg states. If society voluntarily reduces its energy usage by the necessary amount in order to minimize climate impacts, “huge numbers of people would be impacted by giving up large chunks of energy usage. Individuals, communities, corporations and governments would experience giving up power in one way or another, whether physical, social, political or economic.”

What do you, dear reader, believe the results may be in Glasgow? Is there any hope?

“Connecting the Dots” by Greenfield writer John Bos is published every other week in the Recorder. He is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. His climate crisis essays have been published in the Springfield Republican and other regional newspapers. Bos is the editor of a new children’s book “After the Race” available on Amazon. Questions and comments may be directed to john01370@gmail.com.




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